Communities of Resilience

C O M M U N I T I E S   O F   R E S I L I E N C E 

Resilience is simultaneously robust and flexible. Resilience is exhilarating creativity. Resilience is diversity of approaches and multiplicity of solutions.

Resilience is the capacity for something to withstand external shocks and still retain its function. In the context of a community, resilience means being able to sustain basic needs on a local level -- things like food, energy, services, and essential products. There are two foundational reasons for building resilience:
  1. Peak oil, which will dramatically increase the price of energy, thus crumbling the foundations of the current growth-based economy.
  2. Climate change, which will carry an array of increasing pressures on communities worldwide.  One of the most pressing consequences we’re already seeing is the overflowing numbers of refugees that are seeking resettlement due to their lands disappearing under water (link to maldive’s), or from war or genocide that are intrinsically linked to the scarcity of resources.  
When considered separately, peak oil and climate change each have a set of possible solutions. Yet many of the possible solutions to peak oil – switching to coal, for example – are unthinkable for global warming. And many of the proposed solutions to global warming – switching to electric cars, or the “hydrogen economy” – are severely constrained by how much cheap oil we will have on hand to put the infrastructure in place and whether we will have sufficient economic support for the massive conversion.

Taken together, the “triple header” crisis dictates a very small pool of potential solutions. Realistic solutions are not likely to include continued globalization; we simply will not have the fuel to maintain it. The most resilient solutions tend to be simple, local, and small scale and demand few resources and little in the way of energy inputs. This set of solutions has been variously described as “energy descent”  or “powerdown.”  In any event, the crises we face have already determined that our future will inevitably be one of less energy consumption overall.

Within Transition initiatives, building resilience means growing our local ability to meet the everyday needs of life despite fewer resources and less energy with which to do it. The goal is that local communities become more flexible, robust, and skilled. Thus rather than campaigning for “clean-fuel” trucks to bring our food from globalized supply networks to supermarkets, resilience-thinking guides a Transition initiative to expand its local skill base and develop the local food network through urban agriculture and edible landscaping. Rather than massive-scale solar projects in a grid across the desert, resilience-thinking highlights the wisdom of small, community-owned solar arrays while simultaneously powering down our electricity demands to a minimal level which matches what can be generated locally. Rather than one-size-fits-all, resilience-thinking points to local culture, local abilities, and local resources as the core of practical answers.

The term “sustainability” has become far less useful. In order to achieve a state of human existence which might potentially be able to be sustained for a long period of time, powerdown must come first. Given our North American and developed-nations ecological footprint, we must substantially adjust our consumption habits to bring them within the carrying capacity of the planet. When the word “sustainability” is used in a context that excludes the concept of powerdown – for example the oxymoron “sustainable prosperity” – it becomes completely useless as a target for basic human survival. Additionally, attaining true societal sustainability is such a long-term prospect that big-picture thinkers such as David Holmgren estimate that those of us alive today will never see it, and it implies such a static state that thinkers such as Transition Colorado’s Don Hall hope we never do.

“Resilience,” on the other hand, is imbued with the vibrancy of life. The term brings up images of a kid bouncing on a trampoline, able to rebound easily and delightfully with the changing surface beneath him. Resilience is simultaneously robust and flexible. Resilience is exhilarating creativity. Resilience is diversity of approaches and multiplicity of solutions. And resilience-building contains “the potential for an economic, cultural, and social renaissance the likes of which we have never seen.”

Synergy between Resilience and Resistance

Building resilience is a form of resistance in and of itself. By living in a community with a thriving local economy, you find yourself enjoying a new level of sovereignty.

But it goes even beyond that. In the process of building resilience, your community will form strong interpersonal ties and develop powerful affinity groups. These are the foundation for resistance.